Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Peking Cuisine

18 Elgin St, Soho, Central
Visited 25th May 2010

Soho is certainly not renowned for its Chinese restaurants and I've got no idea why we ended up at this place. Peking Cuisine is a little restaurant at the bottom of Elgin Street. It’s decked out with a bit of Chinese style clutter and is small and ‘intimate’.
The menu is full of the predictable greatest hits of Beijing. Initially we ordered stir-fried noodles and braised eggplant with pork, but were told the eggplant was a tiny serve(!) so we added a plate of roast mutton. The eggplant came first and it was OK. This dish is always going to be oily, but I would have liked have seen more pork, chilli and seasoning to accompany the oil that smothered the eggplant. Next was the roast mutton and it was spectacular. I’ve had this dish a few times before and love it, though the serves are never big enough. The version we got offered at Peking Cuisine was great; soft, meltingly tender slices of lamb, crisp top and delectable fragrant seasoning; awesome stuff. The plate of noodles came tossed with slithers of pork, bean sprouts, capsicum and onion. Though the noodles were well cooked and nicely al dente, the whole dish was seasoned really strangely seasoned and tasted almost sour. To drink we were told we couldn't have tap water so instead of buying a beer as I planned, I had nothing.
OK, so Chinese in Soho? What we ate at Peking Cuisine was a bit of a mixed bag, the mutton was excellent, the eggplant OK and the noodles pretty average. The service was also kind of ambivalent; the lady who took our order was friendly and helpful, though her 'advice' that the eggplant was "really small" just seemed a thinly veiled attempt to get us to buy more. My big grip however is that we were told that we couldn't have a glass of tap water. This attitude makes me furious with its short sightedness and blatant disregard for the environment. The food wasn't ridiculous, but it certainly wasn't a bargain: the noodles were $88, the eggplant $79 and the mutton $118. While Peking Cuisine was kind of OK I really can't see why you'd bother when there are so many great Beijing style restaurants in Hong Kong; I certainly will not be heading back anytime soon.

Chateau Corbin Michotte Masterclass

Ponti Wine Cellars, Central
25th May 2010

Day two of the Ponti Wine Cellars master classes and it was time to move from Italy to France. I was very excited about tonight’s tasting and the opportunity to try some old Bordeaux. I’m usually pretty sceptical about Bordeaux; I’ve had bottles I’ve loved, but have also had gallons of rubbish. I suppose though, what really gets me is poor value I perceive as coming out of the region. We were guided through several decades of Chateau Corbin Michotte wines by proprietor Emmanuel Boidron. When Emmanuel arrived he was exhausted after travels in China, but with a glass in front of him he quickly warmed to the topic and warmed to his audience. His Grand Cru Classé estate is located on the north-west corner of St Emilion; just up the road from Cheval Blanc. It has been owned by the Boidrons since 1959. The wine is usually a blend of 65% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc and matured in big, new oak barrels.

The vibrant, ruby Chateau Corbin Michotte 2005 was truly a beautiful proposition with plenty of red and black fruit, spice and floral notes. While truly delicious, what impressed me most about this was how refined it was; medium bodied and with fine, perfectly integrated tannin. The 1998 was noticeably firmer and richer than the 2005. It was still ruby in colour with just a hint of orange and a little cloudiness. The nose had lots of spice coming through, with more black fruit than red – boysenberry and blackberry – alongside some sweet red capsicum. The palate was all about sweet black fruits with a lovely herbal edge. Again this was really drinkable with excellent length and masterful, firm but alluring tannins.

Apparently 1981 was a hot year in Bordeaux and Chateau Corbin Michotte 1981 was distinct in that it was made from 50% Cabernet Franc. Perfumed, complex nose had aromas of red liquorice, cassis, spice and leather, while the palate started sweet and moved through gamey flavours before finishing with a taste of liquorice. When we opened the 1975 Emmanuel was really impressed with the cork; I’d have to agree that it was holding up remarkably well (for a cork). Orange fading to brown this had lots of mint on the nose along with aniseed, cinnamon and violets. It was really savoury and tasted of red fruits, tar, tobacco, and aniseed. The acid was noticeable on these older wines and the length excellent on all. The final wine got me a touch excited; a Chateau Corbin Michotte 1964. Light brown in colour the nose on this was initially withdrawn, but as it opened with hints of flowers and spice. The earthy palate was much more inspiring and had leather, aniseed, game and red fruit flavours.

What a tasting; the 1964 was the oldest wine I’ve ever drunk and a truly memorable experience. However what impressed me most was the consistency and quality across the whole selection. The older vintages weren't from the best years, yet all these wines we were beautifully balanced; medium bodied with particularly stylish tannin; and most importantly they were all so, so drinkable. I mentioned price before and at $389 for the 2005 vintage I really can't complain about value either.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Renato Ratti Barolo Masterclass

Ponti Wine Cellars, Central
24th May 2010

Vinexpo Asia
is about to start in Hong Kong has been inundated with visiting winemakers, wine tastings, wine walks, wine dinners, wine fairs, 'crazy wine sales' and I'm guessing quite a few people drinking beer. The excitement is almost too much to handle, but amongst it all I was particularly taken with the round of 'master class' tasting offered by Ponti Wine Cellars. Unfortunately I couldn't make the Chianti and Burgundy ones (that whole working thing), but I managed to make the two latter tastings, the first of which was the Barolo's of Renato Ratti.
The tasting was hosted by the charismatic Pietro Ratti, son of the founder and current proprietor. Pietro enthusiasm for his wines and Piedmont in general was unmistakable. His Italian passion was obvious as he briefly outlined the company's history and walked us through his wines. By chance I've tried their Langhe Nebbiolo previously, but the Barolo's of this tasting were a marked step up.

First on the tasting table were three vintages of their Renato Ratti Barolo Marcenasco. Marcenasco is a sub-region of Barolo near the town of La Morra where their winery is and this (in theory) is their entry level Barolo; though there is nothing 'entry level' about the quality. These wines see 25% new oak, with the fruit coming from three vineyard sites. The 2006 was simply delicious with plenty of cherry, liquorice and of course tannin. The 2005 was similar though I detected mint and aniseed on the nose and the tannins seemed a bit grippier. The 2004 had sign of developing with additional gamey notes on the nose and slightly softer tannins. All three wines were all fantastic, and while the tannins were big they were accompanied by acidity and red fruit aplenty.

The Renato Ratti Barolo Conca 2006 comes from a tiny vineyard right in front of their winery. This was a lot more complex than the Marcenasco, with the noticeable floral aromas. The nose was perhaps slightly more closed, but there was still cherries, smoke and violets. The more savoury palate of course had cherries, but also liquorice and dried herbs. Again this was a case of amazing tannin, balanced with plenty of acidity.

Pietro sees the single vineyard Rocche wines as his 'grand crus' and the quality of his Renato Ratti Barolo Rocche 2006 & 2005 were amazing, but distinct. The 2006 was a tale of tar, flowers, cherries and lots of liquorice with a somewhat withdrawn, but integrated palate and all consuming tannin. 2005 still had the cherries, but there was game, mint (something to do with this vintage perhaps?) and an overwhelming seductive, floral perfume.

I walked away from this all about Barolo. The wines themselves were outstanding and Pietro's friendly, knowledgeable comments added to the experience. Ponti Wine Cellars did a good job of hosting the event.

Visit winery website.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Green Cottage

26 Main St, Yung Shue Wan
Visited 23rd May 2010
It's a long weekend and I'm stuck in Hong Kong. Too somewhat make up for these horrendous circumstances we decided the only sensible thing was to have a bit of a holiday on Lamma Island. A barbecue at a friend's in Pak Kok Saturday evening and a night on the couch did a lot to make up for not being Bangkok or Beijing. Sunday we wandered over the hill to Yung Shue Wan and met a mate for lunch before hitting the beach. His choice was Green Cottage a new little place towards the ferry end of Main St. We grabbed a table overlooking the harbour on their little terrace.

Green Cottage serves pretty standard café fare, but as Lamma is Hong Kong’s hippie haven the menu is mainly vegetarian and organic. I went for a lunch set that included soup, mushroom burger and coffee. Joey had already had a serve of eggs so stole the soup from my set and ordered a mango smoothie. Though not massive the burger was tasty; the portobello mushroom was really juicy and the additions of red onion marmalade and cheddar were a nice touch. It came with a simple side salad and a few homemade baked wedges; the potato ones were terrible undercooked, while the sweet potato ones were delicious. The carrot and ginger soup was obviously homemade, with plenty of grated veggies and the interesting addition of some oyster mushrooms; it was a satisfying dish though pretty basic and heavy on the ginger. Joey’s smoothie was good, while the two lattes I drank were just OK.

Our relaxed lunch at Green Cottage was part of a great little ‘holiday’ on Lamma. The tasty homemade food was packed with healthy, fresh ingredients, though a couple of the dishes needed a little refinement. Value wise it’s pretty good: the main meals are listed at $68, but their lunch set, which adds house coffee and soup or salad for $78, is better value. The staff were friendly, efficient and relaxed which went a long way to creating that chilled café atmosphere so often missing in Hong Kong. I also liked the fact that glasses of flavoured tap water were offered and constantly refilled. Green Cottage does a lot of the right things; they just need to sort their coffee.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Ka Lai Yuen Chiu Chow Restaurant

5 Li King House Hong King Street, Yuen Long
Visited 19th May 2010

I think I got the English translation correct, but if not the Chinese is 嘉麗園潮州粉麵餐廳. In many ways this is a very local style restaurant, but it’s one that is got more front than Myers. Simple metal stools and lino topped tables are packed into a room totally drowned in beef bling. Ox horns, mural covered walls, gold trimming and photos all celebrate the simple joys of beef. Ka Lai Yuen Chiu Chow Restaurant also makes its presence felt across Yuen Long by plastering ads on the sides of mini-buses and taxis. This place is basically a celebration of beef; lots and lots of beef, oh and balls. Hong Kongers aren't shy of devouring a whole beast so there's plenty of offal on offer including about a million different types of cow stomach. I ordered a bowl of balls called 'ten treasures'; basically noodles in soup with ten dumplings. The attraction with this dish was the little floating 'treasures'; all different and all hand-made. Most of the balls and dumplings I got were really nice including the beef balls, pork balls and prawn balls and a couple of tofu creations; however the wontons were too soggy and bit disappointing. Set in the middle of these balls was a big clump of hair moss; I'm not a fan of this and have to question either its environmental creditability or authenticity, but perhaps that a personal issue. I also felt a bit let down by the soup; it was light on the beef flavour and needed a bit more oomph. My friends both enjoyed their serves of beef noodles, reporting that the mix of tendon, tripe and skirt all beautifully cooked.

Ka Lai Yuen Chiu Chow Restaurant certainly scores points for sheer creativity. The people behind the venture should get massive credit for one cool looking joint and for adding a bit of interest to Yuen Long's public transport. A visit to a restaurant however isn't about appearances, but taste and I thought my noodles and booty were OK; good, but nothing special. The guys I was with however were more impressed with their meals; maybe I just don't have the sentimental attachment to this type of old school comfort food that my Hong Kong friends do or maybe I just should have ordered the beef. If you're floating past and in the mood for tripe, Ka Lai Yuen Chiu Chow Restaurant is worth a stop, though I wouldn't go out of my way to visit.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Lots of Little Drinks

A big bag of little bottles

At mate good mate of mine, who travels a lot for work, is leaving Hong Kong. He arrived around the other day with a big bag of little bottles. Working in both North and South America he has the joy of flying US airlines perhaps more than he'd prefer. They seem to ration their booze more than most and on a given flight he tells me he's entitled to a certainly number of mini spirits bottles. He, of course, always takes them. I'm not really sure if he's doing me a favour by passing over a bag filled with spirits. A parting gift or parting shot?

Paul Zinck 'Prestige' Riesling 2007

Eguisheim, Alsace, cork

Yuen Long isn’t known as a hot spot for fishing, but I’m slowly getting a bit of an addiction to casting into the gutters and drains of my neighbourhood. The wine I assume would go rather nicely with a Shan Pui River carp, if I ever manage to land one. This offering from Paul Zinck was grown at an elevation of between 230 to 280 metres on south facing slopes of calcerous silt.
This is darker than I expected and is a lovely golden colour; there’s also an abundant deposits of beautiful wine crystals. Having a smell and things get pretty exciting, pretty quick; there’s crisp green apple, green guava, sherbet, lime, lemon and plenty of minerality; it’s seductive stuff. The palate is totally dominated by lemon; there’s enough citrus here for some kind of festival, though hints of tropical fruit add interest. Round, lush and surprising persistent, what stands out however is the buckets of fresh acidity. Though it lacks a bit of palate complexity Paul Zinck 'Prestige' Riesling 2007 is good stuff; bright and aromatic I’ll buy another bottle when I finally catch my carp.

Visit winery website.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Basil, Basil Everywhere

Update from the Garden

Summer has hit Hong Kong. The weather's warm, the humidity's up and the garden's in full swing. After a few years here I'm happy to say that I've got Basil seeds ingrained in the soil so that both the Thai and Sweet varieties self seed all over the place. This year however I was pretty impressed to see this little guy who's sprouted in a crack in the concrete next to a down pipe; go you good thing!

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Griffs Wine Pub

166 Johnston St, Fitzroy, Melbourne, Australia
Visited 5th May 2010
I had to go back in Melbourne for a couple of days and before heading to Tullamarine Airport it was time for a quick dinner with my parents and a mate (who's basically family anyway). I've wanted to visit Griff's Wine Pub for ages; a good friend's boyfriend was chef here and I'd also heard a few people recommend it in the past. It's nicely set-up and they've managed to keep the charm of the old Melbourne pub where it's housed. Now the sad news; it's shutting down in the next month or so and is being replaced by a tapas bar or something just as unnecessary.
Wednesday night is bargain night at Griff's and they offer a selection of mains for a very reasonable $13.50. Both my father and I went for the roasted pork belly served atop cannellini beans. My mum chose the pork loin with red cabbage and my mate the seafood paella. The pork belly wasn't the biggest serve of meat, but it was deliciously tender. While not particularly attractive to look at the stewed beans it was served atop of were full of flavour and complimented the meat better than I expected. I also enjoyed the sample of my mum's pork chop that I managed to squeeze out of her. We finished by sharing a couple of desserts and both the crème brûlée and a lemon tart were excellent. To drink I started with a pot of Monteith Ale a crisp, flavoursome drop from New Zealand that they have on draft. My mum was happy sipping on Yarrabank Sparkling that they had by the glass while us boys went with a couple of bottles of red. First off was a fruity SC Pannell Pronto GSM and then a fantastic bottle of Samuel's Gorge Shiraz 2004. I visited this winery a few years ago and I was just as impressed with this wine as I was then.

For me Griff's ticked all the right boxes. Sure the food was good, but what sold me was the whole package. As I was literally about to jump on a plane back home to Hong Kong it's easy to compare, and in this case Australia came out a big winner. First was the chilled atmosphere; an environment that was perfect for a family get together and one that is rarely found in Hong Kong where it's either forced formality or unruly craziness. Next up was the service. The staff here were efficient, polite and aware, but they were also extremely knowledgeable and managed operate in a relaxed and friendly manner; again so different to Hong Kong were service is always chokingly formal or non-existent (I'm sure there's some expression about paying peanuts). The other great win for Australia was the wine. I've said before Hong Kong is a great place to buy wine, but a terrible place to drink it. At A$62 the Samuel's Gorge Shiraz 2004 wasn't particularly cheap, but at about HK$430 that's kind of normal for Hong Kong. The big difference is in the mark-up; retailing at A$35 (the same as it did in 2005!!!) this had less than a 100% mark-up. Now compare this to Hong Kong where wines tend to get inflated by 200% or 300%. Griff's Wine Pub really has a winning formula; I just wonder why anyone would want to close it down?

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Dumpling King

240 Castle Peak Road, Yuen Long
Visited 1st May 2009

Before a Saturday morning visit to the market and Joey and figure it was time for some sort of food. I’d noticed the Dumpling King but had never tried it, but when we saw the prices we were in there quick smart. The branch we went on Castle Peak Road opposite Yuen Long Plaza is one six outlets scattered between Yuen Long and Tsuen Wan; the other Yuen Long branch is on Fau Tsoi Street near Shaffi’s. Inside the big restaurant is just your typical Chinese dinner; clean but basic.

While claiming to be the ‘King’ as far as dumplings go these guys also sell a range of noodles and rice plates as well as plenty of different snacks. We of course went for a serve of their signature pan-fried dumplings, along with a steamed bun and a serve of hollow soup noodles with chicken wings. The dumplings were a slightly strange elongated shape but were really juicy inside with a crisp, but surprisingly not oily bottom. The pork bun was good, with a decent meaty filling. Joey really wanted ‘hollow noodles’, insisting that as you can suck up soup through the middle they have a really intense flavour; I disagreed. Along with bad ‘luncheon meat’ and soggy macaroni these noodles would have to be about the only Cantonese food I really dislike. As I predicted the hollow noodles, which are really just a bad quality copy of spaghetti were soggy, flavourless mess. The rest of the dish was OK though: a nice enough soup base, minced beef, peanuts and some oily, but tasty wings.
While claiming to be the King of Dumplings is perhaps a bit of an overstatement there’s no denying that the Dumpling King offers some tasty snacks. Probably the most startling thing about this place is the how good value it is; $10 for 5 dumplings, $4 for a bun, $23 for the noodles with a plate of wings and only an additional extra $4 and $5 for soy milk and a Coke; cheap as. Apart from the sloppy hollow noodles I enjoyed my feed at the Dumpling King and will certainly be stopping in again.